Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Professor Jake and The Early Bands of Fairport

Mention of the name Fairport brings to mind a myriad of associations.  Residents mention 'The Diamond', Docks, Mardi Gras, Harding High memories, ethnic histories, Isalay's, Thall's, The Lyric Theater, village sports successes and so on.  Non-residents will mention the lighthouse, beach, recent Skipper baseball accolades or the village's lake access.  Music may not be one of these first associations to come to mind, but it is a rich patch in the cultural quilt that is Fairport's history.

History tells us that Fairport's 'Sulo' Band of 1893 was the first organized concert band in the village.  A Kasvi Temperance Society band under the direction of August Albert of Fourth Street, it existed for nearly a decade. History also tells us that none of the members had any previous formal musical instruction.  With no knowledge of reading notes, a director who only played a coronet, and armed with only a fondness for music garnered from their past experiences, the band was formed.  Parts were learned from memory after the director sampled the tunes on his reed organ for them.  Another interesting nugget about this band was the fact that instrument variety was not a factor.  Baritones seemed to be the instrument of choice.  Still the band's performance at the 'Torch Light' parades of the gay nineties in Painesville celebrating William McKinley election were chronicled successes in the local newspapers.

Another band that followed closely at the heels of the 'Sulo' start-up was the Imatra Band which performed in the early 1900's.  From the Telegraph, March 11,1896 mention was made of a Fairport Marine Band giving an opening performance at Foster's Hall on March 10.  The Citizen's Band - 1902 met in the old school building.  C.E. Miller was the instructor.  Henrey Werbeach, Frank Stange, Joe Hungerford and Mike Locotosh were some of the members of that band.

The J.F. Jacobson Concert Band Era does not have an exact start date recorded but primary sources dating to 1927 recall Professor Jake and the band.  The wooden bandstand on the village park became the focal point of entertainment every Sunday afternoon.  Monetary support from the Diamond Alkali and P&L E Dock Company took care of the purchase of uniforms and music.  Even the Great Depression did not deter Professor Jake from rehearsing each Wednesday night at Plum Street School for the June-September concert series.  In a fitting tribute to John F. Jacobson, sixteen members of his band played at his Evergreen Cemetery internment on January 13, 1941.

A band uniform (1899), uniform belt buckles (1934) and archival photos housed by the FHHS at the Fairport Lighthouse and Marine Museum stand as a testimony to the village's storied musical past.  Fairport celebrates its bicentennial in 2012.  Concerts on July 7 at Veteran's Park and August 19 at the lighthouse will allow visitors and residents alike to reconnect, rediscover, and renew village memories.

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